The Times of India
11 May 2009,
I have seldom read such fictional defence of the barbarians — except in the propaganda sheets of Goebbels and Saddam Hussein — as was so painfully manifest in Mariana Babar’s account of Swat Sikhs. This account first appeared in The News, Karachi, and was later recycled by an Indian magazine.
I will comment on the version that appeared in Karachi, for the sake of presenting a Pakistani intellectual’s obsession with marginalizing the pains of non-Muslim minorities in their land of Islamic justice.
The gem of her two-part series is the line told to Mariana by a Swati refugee Sikh: “Believe me, the state of Pakistan treats us like a gul (flower). We are better off than the majority Pakistanis.”
When she asked about the protests in Jammu, a Sikh gentleman retorted, “We hope that these Sikhs there would stop this. They compromise our position as Pakistanis. Pakistan is Mecca for Sikhs because this is where Baba Guru Nanak was born. This soil is holy for us. In Pakistan it is our religion alone that is our protection.”
Now compare this with what other reporters have said about the Sikhs and the Hindus in Swat.
The Times of India (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/India-conveys-concern-to-Pak-over-harassment-of-Sikhs-in-Swat/articleshow/4473042.cms) reported: "On seeing reports about Sikh families in Pakistan being driven out of their homes and being subjected to `jaziya' and other such impositions, the Indian government has taken up the question of treatment of minorities in Pakistan with the government of Pakistan,” said MEA official spokesperson Vishnu Prakash. ... According to reports, Taliban militants have demolished 11 homes of members of the minority Sikh community in Pakistan's troubled Aurakzai tribal region after they failed to pay `jaziya'.
PTI reported from Islamabad: The National Assembly or lower house of the parliament adopted a resolution recommending that President Zardari should accord approval to the Nizam-e-Adal Regulation to implement Shariah or Islamic laws in Swat. The resolution was passed following a debate in the House. The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has offered its full support to the Regulation. (Rezaul H Laksar , April 13, 2009)
And on Rediff.com this appeared: After the Hindus, it is the Sikhs who are fleeing the restive Taliban dominated Swat region in Pakistan. At least 200 Sikhs have fled the Swat region and are taking shelter in various gurudwaras in Pakistan.
IANS reported this under the headline “Christians, Hindus, Sikhs forced to flee Swat: Catholic Church”: The minorities in Pakistan’s Swat Valley have been forced to flee as the Taliban have imposed a tax on non-Muslims, Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (PCBC) president Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha has said, urging the Pakistani president and prime minister to intervene. Expressing concern over the government’s move to allow the imposition of Sharia laws in parts of the North West Frontier Province, the archbishop said in his letter to the Pakistani leaders: “We note with sorrow that your government has failed to take stock of the concerns of civil society in Pakistan in your decision. “Christian, Hindu and Sikh families have been forced to flee because the Taliban imposed on them Jizia, a tax levied on non-Muslims living under Islamic rule,” he said. “Besides jeopardising the socio-economic and cultural growth in Swat and Malakand, the decision has also given legal sanction to the diktats of the trigger-happy Taliban,” the archbishop’s letter said.
But Mariana comfortably tries to mix sentiments with a state- sponsored propaganda and reports they didn’t flee from Swat because of fear of the Taliban. She quotes a Sardarji from Swat, “What is this propaganda that we have been forced to flee Swat and Buner because of the Taliban’s oppression? Please, the media has to distinguish between what happened to the Sikhs in the Orakzai agency, and why we have come here”.
They are “relaxed and comfortable”, and have no fear from the Taliban, according to the Pakistani reporter. In fact, they are lovable friends, she says. Mariana quotes a Sikh, “The heavily armed Taliban came to our village, stopped their vehicles in the bazaar and greeted us. We too greeted them and offered them cold drinks. They said they would pay but we insisted. They have been around for quite some time now, but have left us alone.”
So, who were the Sikhs brutalized by the Taliban? Her friend clarifies: “They were from Orakzai and have now gone to Peshawar gurudwara!”
She creates the same confusion as a section of the Pakistani press created post-26/11 that the Mumbai attackers were a part of “CIA-MOSSAD-Hindu radical” plot, and quotes another Sikh, “God only knows whether the ones in Orakzai who are victimizing the Sikhs are even Taliban or not. They could be someone else in the guise of the Taliban.”
Sikhs from Swat, taking refuge in Panja Sahib gurudwara, Hasan Abdal, are in a ‘Spartan’ surroundings, ‘better than the Swati Muslim refugees’, 'girls speak impeccable English’ and are dressed ‘smartly' and “none of the Swati baggy gypsy dresses for them”. And lo and behold, in spite of being forced to leave their home and hearth, the way they are being treated makes their every day as celebrative as Baisakhi. She quotes a woman, “Every day has been Basaki (sic) for them since they have been here.”
So what’s the fuss about?
News reports about Taliban brutalizing, imposing Jijia on non Muslims, Pakistani army being pushed into action against them under US pressure, in one day 55 Taliban reportedly killed by Pakistani army — all became irrelevant if one believes this kind of a “report”.
She has had Sikhs saying things which Taliban would like to hear.
Naturally so. If you are a Hindu or a Sikh in Pakistan, you are required to sing paeans to the perpetrators of atrocities in order to survive yet another day. Accept purdah the Muslim way, don’t read Hindi or Sanskrit to study your religious scriptures — read them all in Urdu. Don’t sport a bindi on your forehead. Learn to greet everyone the Islamic way. I have seen Hindu Pandits in Karachi’s famous Shiva temple wearing Muslim skullcaps inside the temple. Perplexed, when I asked the reason, they smiled and said: “It helps to be like the majority here.”
It was like Imam Bukhari wearing a Gandhi cap while addressing the faithful in Delhi's Jama Masjid and reading Koran in Hindi with a smile on his face saying, it’s nice to be like the majority.
Acceptable? It’s acceptable only if the minorities happen to be Hindus in a Muslim-majority country.
The tribe of such professionals never asks a question why the number of Hindus and Sikhs has been continuously on the decline in Pakistan since 1947? Why do they have no voice in the politics and governance, in the administration and social sector? Just one Sikh was admitted to the army sometime ago and it made international news!
The fact is the growing Talibanization of Pakistan is a direct result of strengthening of Deobandi school of Wahabism, which has accelerated the process of Arabization of Pakistani society and governance. Till Zia ul Haq, textbooks had a lesson on Ramayana and Hindi was taught in schools having a sizable Hindu students. Not any more. I searched almost all the bookshops in Karachi, Pakistan’s intellectual workstation, to find any book, in any language, on Hindu or Sikh pilgrim centres of Pakistan. I could find none.
Yet the common people are astoundingly different, they still nurture the relations which are mostly based on caste and language affiliations. Rajputs, Khatris, Gujjars, Sindhis have extraordinary bonds with their counterparts across the border cutting the religious fault lines. I saw it during my pilgrimage to Mata Hinglaj in Baluchistan three years ago. Besides that, there exists a section in Pakistan society that is well meaning, reasonable and works hard to see Hindus and other non-Muslim minorities are accorded a respectable place. But they are gradually being reduced to a negligible minority and the Taliban elements train their guns on them
more severely. One of such scholars Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, who is a Professor of Physics of Quad-e-Azam University, Islamabad, recently wrote an eye-opening piece. It’s worth reading and for the benefit of readers I must quote a few lines:
“To understand Pakistan's collective masochism, one needs to study the drastic social and cultural transformations that have made this country so utterly different from what it was in earlier times. For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian Peninsula.
“This continental drift is not physical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a rich Muslim culture in India for a thousand years.
“Villages have changed drastically, driven in part by Pakistani workers returning from Arab countries. Many village mosques are now giant madrassas that propagate hard-line Salafi and Deobandi beliefs through oversized loudspeakers.
“As a part of General Zia-ul-Haq's cultural offensive, Hindi words were expunged from daily use and replaced with heavy-sounding Arabic ones. Persian, the language of Mughal India had once been taught as a second or third language in many Pakistani schools. But, because of its association with Shiite Iran, it too was dropped and replaced with Arabic. The morphing of the traditional "khuda hafiz" (Persian for "God be with you") into "allah hafiz" (Arabic for "God be with you") took two decades to complete. The Arab import sounded odd and contrived, but ultimately the Arabic God won and the Persian God lost.”
But as the discernible readers would have marked, even a reasonable Pakistani scholar like him had no words to say about the plight of non-Muslim minorities. There are sincere human rights activists taking up the cause of the minorities. Most of them have close links with the Indian Left and so keep a distance from India's Hindu responses. Yet, they serve a purpose worth an applause. I have met a Pakistani medical practitioner who has been helping build a temple for Hindu Valmikis (those who are still considered outcasts by an arrogant ritualistic Hindu section considering itself as 'high caste'.) and propagating vegetarianism. Every time he comes to India, invariably he would take a few small size stone sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses for his friends. He says, “My ancestors broke too many temples. Let me do my bit to heal the Hindu wounds.” Extraordinary tale. I too wouldn’t have believed it if I had not met him personally.
Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy's article gives an honest account of what a section of Pakistanis feels about the transformation that has taken place there.
We have good people everywhere, even in Saudi Arabia. So what? Do they have the strength and courage to finally stand up and provide protection to the hapless Hindus and Sikhs? In the last three months more than 6,000 Hindus were forced to flee Peshawar and Orakzai and take shelter in India. Did it make any difference to the seculars here? If a Hindu majority state remains unperturbed at the plight of Hindu refugees from Kashmir, how can we expect them to take any action to help Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan? Socialist leader Lohia in the sixties had clearly stated that the Indian state will always remain responsible to ensure protection and guarantee of life and faith to the Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. In 1971, the hero of the Bangladesh liberation, Lt Gen J F R Jacob, had asked Mrs Indira Gandhi to ensure that the Hindu minorities were guaranteed safety and honour in the newly liberated state. Nothing happened. Indian leaders, remain silent and have their confused Pakistan policy mired in friendship diplomacy, which Islamabad has never reciprocated honestly.
Though Talibanization of Pakistan is affecting Muslims too, it has harder lessons for non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan who have been denied equal civil and religious rights in a country which owes its birth to an intense hate-Hindu mindset. Is that what makes Pakistani Hindus and Sikhs say they are being taken care of like a gul (flower), that too in Buner?